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As important as eating healthy is to our wellness, it’s a bit of an ordeal. The time, the energy, and the mess involved in cooking can feel insurmountable for even the best of us. I often refuse to chop vegetables for myself to eat, and I’m a chef, so I have no shortage of sympathy for those who avoid it and don’t have the professional skills to make it a fast task.
My desire to eat healthily, coupled with malaise around cooking for myself, has led me to spend a lot of time figuring out how to eat the way I want without spending more time in my kitchen than I already do. And like any good lesson learned, that info deserves to be shared. Ahead, I've rounded up my top 10 tricks to eating healthy without having to cook.
Single Ingredient Snacks
An apple a day doesn’t exactly keep the doctor away, but it does offer important nutrients such as fiber, quercetin, and pectin. Any single food—whether fruit, vegetable, nut, or protein—can generally be considered healthy. That's because the things that make foods unhealthy are what we do to them in processing, not their raw ingredient state. When you have the munchies, a focus on single ingredients will ensure a nutrient-rich snack. It’s great to think outside the box on this one: I often eat yellow or orange bell peppers whole like apples, for example.
Convenience foods have come a long way. Where once anything pre-cut or pre-cooked was filled with chemicals to keep it fresh or for flavor, there are countless unadulterated ingredients available now that have made mealtime easier for consumers. Think cooked grains that only need heating, crudités for snacking, and eggs that are already hard-boiled.
Meal Prep Delivery
There are more healthy meal delivery options than ever before. You can choose boxed fresh ingredients that come with recipe card instructions or eschew your oven completely and opt for pre-cooked meals. Meal services often offer assorted nutrition profiles for those who have specific needs, and there are plenty of generically healthy, fresh ingredient-focused services, too. If you like to support small businesses, you'll likely find people in your neighborhood who offer meal prep services as well.
Grocery Store Food Bars
Where once a grocery store salad bar was something to actively avoid, nowadays many are as good as your average takeout meal and healthier to boot. Health food store's hot and cold bars offer moderately priced options for everything from organic rotisserie chicken to premade dinner dishes, in addition to assorted dressed salads and cooked veggies. They’re also the perfect place to find single ingredient produce or protein snacks.
Smarter Takeout And Dining
It’s time to stop beating yourself up about ordering food. We all do it and we all enjoy it. What matters is what food you’re eating. If something tastes incredibly delicious, chances are it’s mostly oil/butter, salt, and sugar, and your instinct that it isn’t healthful is correct. That doesn't mean it's bad or shameful—it means it's delicious and you should enjoy yourself—but just be aware of the ingredients. Healthy restaurants abound now in major cities and often suburbs, too, with everything from ingredient lists to macronutrient breakdowns available for consumer viewing.
To eat the healthiest takeout, choose vegetable-forward dishes with minimal sauces, high-quality proteins when possible, and a sodium content that won’t leave you thirsty after. If dining at a restaurant, remember that U.S. portions tend to be behemoths, and it’s ok to save leftovers for a later meal that’s ready and waiting for you to enjoy effortlessly.
People tend to forget how useful freezers actually are. Buying frozen vegetables, which are usually flash-frozen after blanching, saves on money and offers convenience along with nutrient profiles that are shockingly similar to their fresh counterparts. Frozen meal choices full of healthy ingredients are more reasonably priced than ever before. And, if you ever are inspired to whip up a stew, soup, or casserole, you can freeze your creation in individual portions to thaw for months to come.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gathering some protein, produce, and a carb source and nibbling on them without any further prep involved. I regularly eat cheese, crackers, a piece of fruit, and a handful of nuts as a meal. I encourage you to be intentional and put it all on a plate so you can see what you’re eating and relax more in the process. I try to make a habit of that myself. But if you find you’re content at your computer or couch with food in hand, you’re not hurting anyone, yourself included, provided you’re conscientious about your portions.
Make It Social
Once upon a time, people traded everything from livestock to crops because no one had the bandwidth to handle every assorted nutrient need. We won’t be going back to that mindset anytime soon, but we can eat more healthily if we take a community-oriented approach. That can mean grocery shopping with a friend, making a meal together, or even prepping a week’s worth of smoothie breakfasts in a friend's kitchen. You can also rotate the prepping so that you put in a little extra time one week and then let your friend take over the next week.
Keep Realistic Foods On Hand
Dried beans are cheaper and more nutrient-dense than canned, but what are the chances you’re going to soak them overnight then boil them for an hour or two the next day? Keeping a realistic pantry, rather than an aspirational one, can help you eat better with minimal effort. Know your tastes and preferences, and stock accordingly. If you don’t enjoy unsalted nuts, buy salted ones, because nuts that get eaten are infinitely more healthy than nuts that go rancid in the cupboard after being left there all summer.
It’s common (and again, not shameful) to make less ideal choices when you’re feeling super hungry. Stave that feeling off, and subsequently keep your wits about you by carrying easy grab-and-go snacks like granola bites, a piece of fruit, or a protein bar. I’ve given a handful of almonds from my purse to more friends than I can count over the years, and we made wiser dining choices because we weren’t feeling so desperate for sustenance.